A Visit to Faerie
The Al-Tair al-Bunni lurched again, pulling Quinn out of his troubled sleep by the stomach. He clapped a hand to his mouth, stifling a moan as he rolled out of his bunk and made his way topside, to the spot which Hada’s crew called Quinn’s “post” on the ship. He hugged the rail with both arms, too sleepy and queasy to keep his balance on the rolling deck, and waited for the inevitable. Serves ye right fer eatin’ so much, he told himself as his mouth started to water, as it always did. Findin’ the wee bairn’s cause t’ celebrate, an’ no mistake, but ye knew ye were gettin’ on a blasted boat agin.
Not this time, he thought. Mebbe ye ain’t sea-blooded, but ye’re strong. Stronger’n this. Keep yer food down, Quinn!
He squeezed his eyes shut and thought of calmer harbors, casting his mind ahead to their destination of Balearaeos. The city stood bright and warm in the afternoon sun, the people making way for the Spellknight as he climbed the road to Koritsi Kai Kalukas once more. Sitting beside the well there, Pastanti rose at the sight of him, a simple curtsy and a shy smile failing to hide her happiness at the return of her apsifoppotis. She started toward him as he drew nearer, holding out her arms…
The ship crashed down again, and Quinn opened his eyes to find himself back aboard the Al-Tair al-Bunni in the middle of the night. They were still days away from Balearaeos, from the reunion he ached for. To his surprise, though, the urge to vomit had passed.
“Quinn?” came a quiet voice. “Are you all right?”
He looked over his shoulder to see Nyleth hanging in the rigging above him, wide awake and shoeless, with her hair down. Quinn had encountered her like this before, but hadn’t looked for her this time in his haste. Aye, an’ last time she was upside-doon. ““Oh! Nyleth! I dinnae see ye there. Aye, I’m a’right. Jist tryin’ tae find mah sea legs, still. Honessly, I like th’ sea jist fine. Only from the land, d’ye kennit.”
He turned and stood with his back to the rail, dabbing at the corner of his mouth out of habit. Elves went into a trance instead of sleeping, and Nyleth’s trances had been less restful since she’d learned that her cousin was among the missing Faerie slaves… “An’ ye? Are ye all right?”
“Oh, of course,” she said lightly. “I just like sitting up here. I can feel the wind!” Her toes wiggled in punctuation, just about at Quinn’s eye level. He wondered how feet so dainty could support her, even tiny as she was. He started wondering what Pastanti’s feet looked like, and not for the first time, before Nyleth spoke again: “And, if I want to talk to the stars, no one else will hear me.”
Every star in creation had come out tonight; Quinn couldn’t conceive a better time or place to speak to them. “An’ what d’ye talk to the stars aboot?” I know so little aboot ‘er… mebbe if I keep it light, she’ll share a wee bit.
She smiled down at Quinn, trying to keep her hair out of her face. “Oh, this and that. Mostly just about what has happened. See that really blue one there?” Nyleth pointed to a clear, bright star just ahead of the bow. “When my brother and I were little, we used to say that one was magic.”
“Oh, aye?” He squinted at the star in question, and tried not to think about how many decades had passed since Nyleth had been little. “What sort o’ magic?”
“That we could talk to each other through it, you know? Like if I told her what was wrong, Tanail could hear me.” She laughed brightly, her skirts blowing in the rising wind. “I’ve always told her what I’ve been up to, so that he could hear me too.”
“The star’s a she, then?”
“Of course she is!”
“Aye, o’course. An’ suren yer brother does the same fer ye. Are ye close? I ne’er had nae brothers ‘r sisters, mahself…”
“Oh, not as close as we would like, I am afraid,” she said, quietly. “But we’ve always been so. You can borrow Tanail, too, if you’d like. He’s a sweet man.”
Quinn raised a thankful hand. “Thass kind o’ye, lass, but Moria’s all th’ elven brother I kin handle, truth be told.”
“We are a prickly sort at times, I suppose?” she said with a knowing grin.
“Nah. Just… whass the word. Mercurial. There’s a lotta feelins goin’ on behind all that Elven Mystery. A human’s gotta spend enough time around ye to kennit.”
Nyleth nodded. “How long have you known Ecoriel?”
“Five years. Not s’long t’an elf – mebbe not s’long for humans, really – but long enough t’ken what manner o’man ‘e is.”
“I am glad Ecoriel has you, Quinn.” Her face had grown suddenly serious.
He nodded with a bit of gravity. “Aye, lass. So’m I. This far away from th’ Arcane Order, ye need folks who kin count on one ‘nother.” Clever as the wizard was, he didn’t have eyes in the back of his head… and, should Quinn be called upon to lay his life down for Moria, better for the wizard to have a defender who considered it his honor as well as his duty. That was a bond of brotherhood.
An’ Moria might ‘ave me, but Ecoriel’s got ye, an’ that’s jist as important. “An’ I won’ lie, I’ve come tae think of ye in th’ same fashion. We ne’er would ha’ got this far without ye.”
Nyleth’s smile shone big and bright as the moon. “That… that means a lot to me, Quinn. You both mean, well, more words than I know in Icatian. It’s been my pleasure, always, to help.”
“An’ most helpful it’s been. Wi’ any luck, Methos ‘r somebody kin break the curse on wee Alyssa. Then we kin git tae findin’ them slavers, an’ yer kin.” It took him a moment to remember her cousin’s name: “Tae findin’ Rhoswen.”
“I… I would like that very much. I was worried that, perhaps, you would wish to go elsewhere…”
“Nay,” Quinn said, shaking his head. “Suren the Order’ll have some other task fer us, but we promised tae help ye, an’ mah word’s mah bond.”
“Thank you, Quinn,” she said, very quietly. “I hope Ecoriel, well, with the Order…” She let her words trail away into the wind.
“I wouldnae worry aboot it. He’s come tae…” He swallowed, waved a hand in an attempt to conjure more words. “Suren he wants tae help ye, too.”
“I hope so,” she said quietly, almost to herself, and looked studiously at her hands for a moment. “I have… grown fond of him, yes?”
“Aye,” Quinn said, thinking back to when they’d discussed this in the Souk al-Madinat. I, um… I would, maybe, like that? she’d said about being with Ecoriel Moria. Quinn had never seen Nyleth at such a loss for words before… He paused, his eyes finding his way to her feet again. “An’ he of ye, suren. Though it ain’t my place tae say,” he added quickly. An’ as I tol’ ye afore, he’ll have tae come t’ see it, an’ tae say it, in ‘is own way an’ time.
“Of course,” she said, just as quickly. “And…I know you would say if there was harm of it.”
“Suren I would. I wouldnae want mah friends tae get hurt. Specially if’n I’m gon’ be followin’ th’ both of ‘em all over th’ world in one blasted boat after another,” he muttered.
She laughed suddenly, and poked Quinn with her bare foot. “Eventually, maybe, one day, you will feel better?”
“Oh, aye. Either we’ll ha’ done with this quest, or else th’ ocean’s all freeze over an’ I kin keep a meal doon f’r once.” Else I kin cast mah mind t’ wherever Pastanti happens tae be… Gotta try that agin next time.
Nyleth’s gaze swept out over the starfield. “Or perhaps we could travel by horseback? Or palanquin? I’ve always wanted to see one of those…”
Horses didn’t get along with Quinn, either. But he decided to stay focused on Nyleth. “That might do, a’that. Ha’ ye ne’er seen a plankin? I thought ye’d been everywhere.”
She needed a moment to work out what he meant by “plankin.” “Well, not never. They used to use them in the streets near her Ladyship’s temple, but not for some time. Not since before I was little.”
Before my Granda’s time… “Ye mean in Faerie, aye?”
“Oh! Yes, In Faerie. Sylvara’s Temple, I mean.”
“What was it like? While ye were there, I mean? Moria hates tae talk aboot it. So’d Kenryk, fer that matter.”
“Kenryk? That name is familiar, maybe?”
“Guild Wizard Kenryk brung me tae Mystral. Clean-shaven, middle-aged, a wee bit tall? Dressed all drab so ye’d ne’er ken ‘e’s a wizard?”
She shook her head. “Ah, Quinn, you’ve described quite a few wizards, alas… but I will think on it. To answer you fairly, Faerie is hard to describe, even in our own language.” Her eyes sparkled like emeralds in the starlight. “It’s very green. More green than any place I have been outside. It is… more like a painting than a place, sometimes.”
“It sounds mos’ bonnie, a’that. I may ha’told ye, but I always wanted tae see it fer mahself. Faerie, I mean. But all them years livin’ right there, an’ I ne’er found th’ courage tae go in, and then I didnae go wi’ Kenryk, or wi’ Moria when ‘e wen’ back… just’s well, really.” I dinnae ken that I’d e’er wanna leave a paintin.’
“I would like to show you our home sometime, if I could.” She fixed him with a quiet, pensive look. “I can, well, I can show you a little?” With a sudden swirl of skirts, she landed next to him on the deck, her hand in her bag.
“No. Well, of a sort. Here.” She quietly held out a large, purple-bound book.
He took it in his calloused hands with care, opening it to find thin pages covered with drawings, paintings, and Faerie script, which he had not yet learned to read. The art was rendered with such care and skill that Quinn felt as if he could reach out and touch the things they depicted.
“Here,” Nyleth said, pointing at one painting. “This is the Lady’s Temple.”
Quinn had never seen anything like it – had never imagined anything like it. Only the artist’s attention to every detail gave it any sense of reality. “Thass… thass beautiful is what that is.”
Nyleth turned the page for him, laying one fingertip next to a detailed charcoal sketch. “And this is my home,” she said, brightly.
“I ne’er seen the like,” he managed. “It’s… it’s breathtakin’.”
“Thank you!” Nyleth said, beaming. “I’m… not supposed to show others, you know? But, well…” She gave him a conspiratorial wink. “Don’t tell Ecoriel?”
“I swear it,” he said, going from jest to solemn oath in three short words. He looked back down on the world of Faerie, a world he’d never expected to see. “Thank ye, Nyleth. If it makes it any easier tae betray yer own kind, seein’ Faerie at last means th’ world an’ more tae me.”
“You’re very welcome, Ser Quinn.” She hovered over his shoulder as he carefully turned the pages, smelling that aura of jasmine that clung to her, even through the sea air.
“Did ye render all these yerself?”
For a fleeting moment, her face fell, but she recovered quickly. “Ah, no. I wish I had such skill. These are from my mother’s hand.”
“Yer ma…” He ran his fingers along the edges of a charcoal sketch of a pair of young elves, careful not to smudge it.
“She is quite the artist, no?”
“Oh, aye. But take heart, Nyleth, fer ye sing at least as bonnie as she draws.”
That brought the smile back to her face. “Ahh, thank you, Quinn! She would be pleased to hear you say as such. She always was a little disappointed in my visual artistry… I hope, well, I hope you liked them. One day, hopefully, Ecoriel and I can show you the real Faerie.”
He closed the book and handed it back to Nyleth with a nod of gratitude. “Nothin’d please me more. Though…”
“Though?” she said as she tucked the book back safely into the magic bag.
“Nah,” he said dismissively. “It’s nothin.” Gods, I’m a terrible liar.
Nyleth smiled and patted his arm lightly. “Thooough?”
“Why did ye leave Faerie? I ken that it ain’t mah business, I jist… I jist wonder. I dinnae think I could leave a livin’ paintin.’”
“Oh, well,” she said, pulling her hair back over her shoulder. “I leave and come back all the time, to be honest. I’ve never left for good, yes?”
“No’ like Moria, then.”
“No,” she said, very quietly. “Not like Ecoriel.”
Way tae put yer bloody foot in it agin. “Too much tae see an’ do, aye?”
“Lots to see, really.” She swept her hand out over the ocean. “And I’m so glad to be here, now, with you all.”
Curiosity got the better of Quinn. “So how did ye come tae be here, anyhow? If’n ye dinnae mind mah askin. S’rather a long way from Faerie, after all.” He and Moria had told her their story over all these sea voyages, but she had said precious little about her own journey.
“That’s a… long-winded answer,” she said, lightly. “Even for me.”
“Welp, I dinnae reckon tae be sleepy agin ‘til daybreak…”
“I’m… looking for things, I guess you could say.”
“An’ are ye findin’ em?” Ye dinnae wanna push too hard, now.
“Well, yes and no. I, well, I am sorry, but I cannot say more, Quinn. Faerie has not always been, I suppose, as tranquil as my mother’s paintings would lend one to believe.”
“Suren I dinnae mind. Yer business is yer business, o’course. Thing’s’ve always been weird twixt Faerie and man, or so me Da’ would have ye believe.”
She suddenly, and quite heartily, hugged Quinn around the shoulders, standing on tiptoes to reach. “I wish, well… I wish I could say.”
After the shock passed, he returned the hug. “Welp, mebbe someday ye kin.”
“I hope so,” she said, using that particular tone that he’d come to call “Elven Mystery.” The familiarity brought a smile to his face.
“Yer too much,” Quinn said with a wink.
“That’s what Mother always said!” she laughed, suddenly letting go of his shoulders.
“Then’s it gotta be true. My Ma was always right.”
“Of course they’re always right. So, what do you think, Quinn? Will you make a mother out of Pastanti someday?”
By the time he felt the blush start in his ears, it had already spread across his face, and he lowered himself along the rigging to sit on the deck.
“Quinn!” Nyleth exclaimed, concern wrinkling her fine elven features. “Oh, Quinn, I’m sorry… you know I was just teasing, yes?”
“Suren I kennit,” he told her. “I jist… that ain’t mah innerest in ‘er.” No matter what mah dreams would have ye believe. Better tae say that it ain’t my only innerest…
“Let me make it up to you. I’ll come with you when you go to see the Prince at Enchrais merchant house. There is no chance that he could resist the both of us.”
“I was gonna ask ye anyway.”
That got him another hug.